Monday, March 28, 2011

Democracy in Action

If anyone can explain this procedure, please feel free to explain in the comments section.


NormanF said...

A "rotten borough" used to refer in the UK to malapportioned constituencies that elected more members to the House Of Commons than the population warranted.

This has been swept aside by the requirement that they be as equal in population as practical.

Here the modern meaning of the usage is the House Of Lords electing replacements for deceased members, a procedure that no other Western legislature has emulated. Even in Canada, Senate appointments are made by the Prime Minister, although there has been a push in that country to replace the appointed Senate with an elected representative chamber.

Y. Ben-David said...

The power of the House of Lords has been slowly whittled away with time. Around 1900, legislation was passed that severly restricted its power. However, they could still cause trouble, one of the most famous cases being over the independence of India in 1947. Although the Labour Party controlled the House of Commons and they were committed to giving them independence as soon as possible, the Conservative Party had the majority in the House of Lords. Opposition Conservative Party leader Winston Churchill had been known for a long time as an adamant opponent of Indian independence. Under the rules that applied at the time , the House of Lords could not block outright Indian independence, but they could delay it for two years. In a crucial meeting between the Indian Viceroy, Louis Mountbatten and Churchill, Mountbatten convinced Churchill not to block it and in return, the Indian Congress Party Leaders Nehru and Patel would agree to have India remain in the British Commmonwealth of Nations (something that seemed important at the time, unlike today).

By the 1990's, as the article points out, the Lords had their power whittled away even more with most of them being forcibly being retired. However, the reforms have not gone all the way, and it has not yet been abolished or replaced with some sort of Senate. As wee see, things like constitutional reform move VERY slowly in Britain, so maybe in another 100-200 years, they will get around to completing these reforms.

Another good example of constitutional anomalies in Britain is the status of the Church of England and the government appoints the bishops of the Church. The monarch is the official head of the church, and as I understand it, all babies born in the UK are automatically registered as members of the Church of England unless their parents decide for them to opt out.
IIRC something like 11 bishops of the Church of England still sit in the House of Lords and regulations of the Church must be approved by Parliament. Thus, when a new prayer book was adopted by the Church some years ago, Parliament had to pass the appropriate legislation, even though, of course, Parliament includes, Jews, Muslims, atheists and other non-conformists. Disestablishment of the Church has been discussed for a couple of centuries now, the current Archbishop of Canterbury has even come out in favor of it, but everyone agrees that there is no chance of this happening, even though the Church is dying and few people in Britain attend services anymore (the Church is doing better in Africa, though).
Tony Blair waited until he left office as Prime Minister to convert from Anglican to Catholic because he said it wouldn't look good to have a non-Anglican appointing bishops to the Anglican church.

Avi said...

The process is similar to that used by the Council of Torah Sages (Ashkenazi) to appoint a new member.

In the case of Hassidic dynasties, the decision is made by the adherents to succeeding Rebbe, unless this is disputed (which, being Jewish, hardly ever happens).

In the case of Mitnagdim or "Lithuanian" Rabbis the new members are chosen by consensus and favoritism among the leading Rabbis of the age.

The parallel Sephardi Council of Torah Guardians uses a totally different system based on favoritism among their leading Rabbis, some of whom may well be aged Kabbalists.

As in the UK example, the elected chamber, the Knesset, has no real influence on the the deliberations and composition of the various Councils of Sages and their submission to the one true path of the Torah.

Although the UK constitution (which does not exist) actually works quite well in practice, it is indeed a sign that sometimes good things can come out of a consensual muddle rather than a crystal clear man made agreement.

Silke said...

I won't go into this case but for me the House of Lords seems to have become a means to get status for "desirable" people. It seems, if there is a "talent" and she/he has proved herself unable to make it via the election process you make her a "Lord" and hooplahop she is a somebody.

I think that's how they pulled it off with EUs terrible Catherine Ash-something. Anyway it is described in detail in this profile of

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi - as best I could tell the young lady has nothing/rien/nichts to her credit besides a certain outspokenness.

From all that I suspect that the House of Lords maybe marginal these days but there are people who know how to make good use of the institution.

Ah and all that is wonderfully democratic.

Barry Meislin said...

If anyone can explain...

Well, they're English....

File under: "Occam's erasor"

RK said...

The story Ben-David tells is even more fascinating. The decisive breaking of the Lords' power came in 1911, with the passing of the Parliament Act, which permitted the Commons to push through bills without the Lords consent after a delay of two years for non-money related bills. Of course, the Lords had to be persuaded to pass an act limiting their own power, and they did so after the Asquith government -- the last Liberal government the UK was to have -- persuaded George V to threaten the Lords with hundreds of new Liberal peers.

The two year delay period proved to be too long for the post-war Attlee Labour government, so a new Parliament Act was passed in 1949. Since the Lords refused to approve this one as well, the government had it rammed through by passing it with the first Parliament Act. This "bootstrapping" procedure was challenged by the Countryside Alliance after the Parliament Act 1949 was used to pass the hunting ban in 2004; ultimately, the procedure was found to be kosher by -- of all people -- the House of Lords, sitting as the UK's highest court. (They did hold that no further bootstrapping is allowed: future Parliament Acts will have to be passed the normal way.)

If you ask me, House of Lords reform is a solution in search of a problem. As Enoch Powell argued years ago, the House of Lords derives its authority from prescription and age -- an authority it would be impossible to recreate in a new, artificially-designed body. (A parallel: the sad pop songs the kids played after Rabin died always sound pathetic compared to the kaddish -- that's the power of tradition.) An elected House of Lords would simply create an additional body with democratic legitimacy that might find itself in conflict with the Commons, as often happens in the US and Australia. As is often the case, the British constitutional system has, in its haphazard way, resulted in a system superior to the American -- which, after all, was based on best political science of the 18th century. (For more on this topic, see Walter Bagehot's _The English Constitution_.)

The implications for seemingly outmoded but fairly well-functioning institutions in Israel, like the millet system, is left as an exercise for the reader.

RK said...

Oh, I have to mention some of my favorite British constitutional oddities: the Chiltern Hundreds and the now sadly abolished rule of wearing hats while raising points of order.

Yaacov said...

I'm impressed, RK.